More Magical Origin Stories… By Fans Like You!
In my last blog entry I shared a few of the entries from my recent Origin Story contest. The competition invited fans of my books to imagine the background of any character from one of my books, and write a short piece of fiction outlining their history. I can’t tell you how pleased I am that so many of my readers took up the challenge… and did it so well!
In Tree Girl, young Rowanna lives in a cottage by the seaside, but and longs to see the great forest, and especially the mysterious High Willow tree which sits on a faraway hill. In her story, Charlotte M. writes from the perspective of one of Rowanna’s animal friends, just before their first encounter:
The softness of mother’s feathers is all around me, warm and dry and safe high up in the big tree by the sea. I push my head through mother’s down to peer over the edge of the nest at all that happens below. Someday I will spread my wings and fly like the gulls. I will fight great battles and conquer monster fish. A branch comes to tickle my scrawny breast feathers, as if the tree could hear my thoughts. He is always teasing, this tree. I snap my beak at him, furious that he should be mocking me, the fiercest of warrior birds. The breeze that rustles his needles sounds like laughter. I squawk at him, struggling to hop out of the nest and show him what I’m made of. Mother gently tucks me back into the fold of her wing, trying to soothe my righteous rage. I calm, but this is one fight that I’ll come back to. No one mocks me and gets away with it, not bird, not sea, and certainly not tree. Mother settles over me as the great big orange sun dips into the waves. Her feathers ripple like the sea as the wind picks up. I’m not afraid, but I know she is. I can feel her heart beating faster. There’s something wrong with the air. The usual tang of salt and fish is stronger, mixed with—with a smell I haven’t smelled before. When I ask mother, she doesn’t answer, fluffing up against the gusts. I tuck my head under my own wing, trying to go to sleep. In the morning all will be well. She will bring me a delicious breakfast of mashed worm, and the sun will shine again. I have not been on this earth long, and already I know the dawn brings with it a new warmth, inside and out.
A fierce cold burst of wind wakes me in the darkness. I lift my head, calling for mother, but she does not come. The gusts are brutal now, shaking the whole tree, sending his needles flying. Again I cheeyup in panic, crying for her. I dig my sharp claws deep into the thatch and seaweed nest, hanging on for dear life. A terrible blast dislodges the nest beneath me, sending me spinning through the air. If I could fly away, I might be able to find shelter, but my wings are too small, too fragile. I squeeze my eyes shut, trembling, helpless. Pain rips through me, bending one of my wings in half as the wind slams me hard against the stone wall of the humans’ nest. Darkness covers my mind like a cloud over the sun. Every tiny bone in me hurts. Sleep is such a relief. Mother—I manage to call one last time, where are you? I think I see the spirit of the tree—an old man with a beard—detach from the trunk to cup me in his rough bark hands, to lift me up and place me somewhere safe.
Yellow sunlight burns my eyes as I crack them open. I can barely lift my head to peer out at the world. Mother has not come back. Still I call for her, loud as I can, which isn’t much. Cheeyup. A new sound reaches me. A voice like a bird’s, but not. Cheeyup. A singing voice. Cheeyup. The steady patter of footsteps drawing closer. A shadow blocks the sun, a friendly freckled girl face peering over the edge of the nest at me. Frightened, I nip at her fingers as she reaches for me. Soft hands enclose me, slipping me into a warm place. I can feel her strong heart beating, soothing. My fear fades. The girl smells of sea and fish and tree. She smells of life. I am Eagle, fierce warrior. Someday I will fly. Until then, I will protect new mother with all my strength.
” . . . But what about magic, and dreams? Or even just not having to struggle for food?”
“You’re a real jester, Alfred,” Mrs. Bumblewy replied. “I swear, you’re destined to make people laugh. Every day it’s a new story. A different life, hope. Your father certainly never planted those ideas in your head. I wonder where you got them from.”
Alfred paused before answering, bobbing his bucket-shaped head in a curious fashion. “Books, I suppose.” His shoulders sagged beneath a short tunic. The tattered breeches he wore were his only additional clothes.
“Books are lies, and you’re an idiot,” Mrs. Bumblewy declared. “We’ve got a sick cow, dry dirt for a garden. Your father’s . . . don’t get me started on your father . . . and you’re talking about magic. Peddle your tales to Esma. Maybe then she’ll produce some milk.”
Mrs. Bumblewy stormed past the small bookshelf and out of the one room shack, shaking her head in a swift, jerking motion that caused her bun to unravel slightly. They did not even have a door anymore. One of the hinges broke last year, and instead of trying to mend it, Mrs. Bumblewy had ripped the other hinge off in a fit of rage and then flung the door onto the woodpile outside, where it still lay. Alfred would have fixed it, he was rather good with his hands, but he liked the unimpeded sound and smell of the rain. That is, when the rain came, which was not very often this summer.
Alfred’s freakishly bushy eyebrows frowned, an expression that did not quite reach his lips. His chin was shaped like an old sagging apple and there was something abnormally fleshy about his neck. He absently fingered the small knife in his boot, thinking that maybe he could find some would to carve at the hemlock grove. He was capable of sculpting nearly anything, and in striking detail. His mother did not know it, but beneath the leaf and grass pallet he slept on in the corner of the shack, there was a collection of miniature animal figurines: squirrels, wolves, ducks, and other creatures, even a mermaid. He often fantasized that they would someday come to life and frolic with him in a pastoral paradise, somewhere far south, where he had heard the land was emerald green and fruit trees grew heavy all year round. But his mother was right. He was an idiot. Perhaps he was destined to be a foolish jester. Abruptly, his eyes brightened. At least jesters could still read books.
As he stepped out of the shack and into the hot reddish light, a bead of sweat slipped down his back. In all of his twelve years, he had never experienced such stifling heat, especially just after sunrise. Perhaps it was some sort of weather cycle he had heard that seed-selling otter talking about. Or maybe there was an evil force about that was compromising the land. Some of his books spoke of such things.
The dry plains to the south were a sickly orange color, dust rising through the red rays of the relentless sun. Esma, the emaciated cow, sniffed hopelessly at the ground. Mrs. Bumblewy was beating at the dead garden soil with a hoe, as though ferocity would force something to grow.
He rounded the shack to be out of his mother’s eyesight and sat down beside a frail oak tree whose leaves were drooping and browned. One grey sparrow sat in the branches, its ordinarily swift movements now lethargic as it turned its head dismally from side to side in a half-hearted search for a worm.
Everything appeared hopeless. Perhaps that was simply the way of things. The thought was strangely comforting and Alfred was inspired to begin singing. His monotonous, cracking voice sounded something like two stones rubbing.
“The sun is hot, and the ground is dry
I wish I knew how not to cry”
The sparrow turned its head slowly toward the hideous noise, blinked its eyes once, and took off into the red sky. Watching it soar, Alfred attempted to smile but his lips trembled and ultimately settled into a frown.
“A Jester,” he muttered, bobbing his head. “Too true, too true.”
Ever since the young merlin first poked his head through his shell, he was trouble. Loud and ever-demanding of his parents’ attention, much to his siblings’ annoyance, he more than once almost caused one of them to fall from the nest. Despite all this, his parents were quite proud of his brazen nature. His mother in particular knew that he was destined for great things, though she knew not just how great those things would be.
The troublesome bird was the first to attempt flight, as well as the first to succeed fully. And oh how he loved to fly. Even at that young age, he had a sense of adventure. Every time he took off from the nest, he felt something in his breast that seemed to call to him, telling him to fly far, far away to…somewhere. Some place where fate awaited him. His mother had to keep a close eye on him, otherwise he would have tried to fly halfway across Fincayra and no one would have known the better.
He was more than eager to leave the nest so when the time finally came, he needed no encouragement from his parents. He left just as the sun was peeking over the horizon. Soaring high in the sky, here at last the merlin truly felt free to follow that tugging in his heart. Swift as the wind, he flew farther than he had flown before. The lands that passed beneath him piqued his curiosity but the tugging sensation was incessant, thus he did not stop nor did he slow down. For some reason he felt that he would be seeing these lands again before too long, and he would not be alone. The idea of this comforted him yet excited him more than ever, and so on he flew, towards his destiny.